by Elizabeth Stoddard

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet opens in Austin on Friday, August 28, at the Regal Arbor.

Salma Hayek produced Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, an animated meditation on the 1923 book of prose poetry, as well as voicing one of the characters. The film follows a narrative about Mustafa (voiced by Liam Neeson, who, according to Hayek, didn’t need a script for the lessons because he had them all memorized), an artist from one country held under house arrest in another. He enchants quiet troublemaker Almitra (Quvenzhané Wallis), whose mother Kamila (Hayek) serves as his housekeeper. Upon news that a ship has come to take him home, he is marched through the town where people excitedly ask him for blessings and words of wisdom.

Mustafa comes off as a Christ-like figure (I haven’t read Gibran’s original work, but I did find this illuminating 2008 New Yorker profile on the late author). The artist’s lessons make about as much sense as the parables of Jesus (which is to say, not much). The clamor greeting Mustafa in his walk through town comes off like palm-waving. And there’s a more obvious similarity towards the end of the film.

Mustafa’s story is directed by Roger Allers (The Lion King), who also adapted the screenplay with help from a couple others. The animation style in this larger portion of The Prophet pales in comparison to the work of the animators who directed the lesson sections. Indeed, the entrancing beauty of the lessons, directed by artists and filmmakers Michel Socha, Nina Paley, Tomm Moore, Joan Gratz, Bill Plympton, Joann Sfar, Mohammed Saeed Harib, and Gaëtan and Paul Brizzi, is the saving grace of the film.

Paley, who directed the lovably fantastical Sita Sings the Blues (you can watch it here), helms the lesson on children. Figures from Grecian sculpture illustrate the words sung by Damien Rice. The lesson is filled with kaleidoscopic imagery, mesmerizing the viewer. Tomm Moore (The Secret of the Kells, Song of the Sea) animates the lesson on love with art influenced by Gustav Klimt and Islamic patterns. The segment is astonishingly intricate, accompanied by a duet from Glen Hansard and Lisa Hannigan.

A precarious tango, directed by Joann Sfar, animates the lesson on marriage, and Plympton’s sketchy designs illustrate the lesson on food. The Michel Socha-directed lesson on freedom is masterful, vibrant with color and warmth. The score from Gabriel Yared and Yo-Yo Ma’s cello help tie these lessons and others into the larger film. These smaller segments vary in style and animator’s technique — digital, hand-drawn, or other — but they all work to make Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet better than average.

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